Relationships take time, work, and a bit of improvisation; something Kat Koppett knows all about.
“The whole foundation of improv is making your partner look good,” Koppett said.
Koppett is the co-director of Mopco Improv Theatre on Jay Street in Schenectady. Because improv is so dependent on communication, it can make for funny exercises for couples, which is exactly why Mopco held a specialty Valentine’s Day improv comedy class for couples last year and why they’re doing it again this year.
Improv is all about listening to one another to create a compelling or silly story or performance; creating something out of nothing together, Koppett said.
That’s what Heather Schwartz loved about improv in the first place and why she started taking improv classes a couple years ago. As a full-time writer in the Capital Region, Schwartz knew a lot about storytelling, but improv took it to a new level.
“I think it’s made me a better writer,” Schwartz said. It helped that the classes were a blast.
So when she saw that Mopco was running couples classes for Valentine’s Day last year, she thought it’d be a good way to show her husband, Philip, what improv was all about.
“It was a lot of fun seeing him get into the goofy games we were playing,” Schwartz said.
Though he was new to it, he acclimated pretty quickly. Koppett said teachers try to make people aware that it’s okay to be a little uncomfortable, or nervous.
“It’s our job to create an environment that’s safe,” Koppett said. In the couples classes, instructors tell attendees that they can feel free to say the first thing that comes into their heads, there’s no need to hem and haw over every word or scene.
Even if a skit falls flat, that’s alright.
“We talk about celebrating failure,” Koppett said.
Much of the class is filled with couples improv games and activities. That includes games like Word at a Time Stories, where groups or couples work together to come up with a story one word at a time.
“You’re sharing responsibility and control,” Koppett said.
In another game, couples create a character on paper by drawing one line or dot at a time, passing it back and forth in between. Then they create a name for it and a backstory. Another improv activity, which some people call “Action Figures,” brings four people to the stage. Two of them can move their eyes and mouth but must wait for the other two to direct them to move around, usually by tapping an arm or leg. Within a group, they have to all make a scene or a story.
“It was kind of a bonding experience,” Schwartz said, “It delighted me to see [Philip] enjoying it.”
Throughout the evening, Schwartz said Philip nailed a few of the improv games and it was fun to watch him have fun with something Schwartz had grown to love.
This is the second year Mopco has held the improv comedy couples class for Valentine’s Day. Although it’s called a couples class, Koppett said that doesn’t have to mean romantic couples. It can be longtime friends, co-workers, etc.
“Valentine’s Day can be lonely for some,” Koppett said. Having a laugh with others can help take the focus off of that and shake things up.
Not all of the activities are couples focused. Sometimes they rely more on audience and group participation, like the game called Category Die. Volunteers get up on stage and the audience picks a category, it could be anything from ice cream flavors to cars. The teacher or director of the game picks people on stage and they have to name something in that category without hesitating and without repeating what someone else has said. If someone’s answer doesn’t fit the category or was already said, the audience has the power to kick them off stage by yelling “die.” Then the volunteer becomes part of the audience.
Games like that get people to think more spontaneously and it takes a bit of the pressure off of being on stage because there’s not as much of a focus on an individual’s performance. It also helps both introverts and extroverts feel comfortable, which is a key part of Mopco’s classes.
Schwartz said that Mopco teachers don't make people feel like they have to participate in a certain way; whatever attendees bring to the class is worthwhile, whether they’re improv regulars or novices.
For those with 9 to 5-day jobs, the Valentine’s Day improv comedy class is scheduled shortly after their workday ends and it can help to shake out the stress of the day, Schwartz said.
“It gets you out of your head,” Schwartz said, “[It’s] almost like being at a Valentine’s Day party.” It’s how she and her husband hope to celebrate this year as well.
Koppett said they’re expecting around 20 couples for the Valentine’s Day session, but they can accommodate for as many as 40. There will be a cocktail hour to kick things off in a more traditional way around 7 p.m. on Thursday. Attendees can enjoy mimosas, wine, beer or cider along with cheese and charcuterie. The class will run until around 9:30 p.m. and tickets are $79 per couple. The Mopco Improv Theatre is located at 10 N. Jay St., Schenectady. For more information visit mopco.org.